I am known in my Army Reserve unit as a “PT Stud.” This term is complimentary. It is bestowed on Soliders who earn the respect of others through their physical stamina and abilities. Following Physical Readiness Tests, Soldiers often ask how they can improve their scores on the three events (running, pushups, situps).
“L.T., I wish I could run like you,” the Soldier comments.
“You can’t run like me. Like I can’t run like Deena Kastor. We’re all individuals. What do you really want to do?”
The Soldier looks at me like I’m crazy for a few moments, then thoughtfully replies, “I want to run faster.”
“Why?” “To improve my PT score.” “Why?” “To get promoted.” “Is that all?”
So, the conversation begins. It may seem odd that my first response was a “put down.” My purpose was to help the Soldier identify his goals. He really didn’t want to run like me. He wanted to run to the best of his abilities and get promoted. As the conversation continued, he identified several other goals related to health, fitness, and his military career. We refined two of the goals to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-targeted).
Goals and motivation are closely related. Without motivation, no goal will be achieved. Without goals, motivation has no direction or purpose.
The following month, we met again to review his progress. “How did the running plan work?” I asked. “Not so good, L.T. I just couldn’t get motivated to get up early to run.” “Really? No motivation? Why not?” The Soldier talked about work and school schedules, being tired, and life generally interfering with his goals. “Sounds like excuses,” I comment. At first, the Soldier was defensive, trying to explain why he couldn’t run. “Hold on for a second. I understand that getting up early is hard. But, again… what’s your motivation? How motivated are you?” He stated, “I want to improve my run, pass the PT test, and get promoted.” “Those are your goals. What’s your motivation?”
The Soldier was confusing goals with motivation. Why is this a problem? He knows what he wants: his struggle is breaking the inertia to work towards his goals. Change takes effort. Overcoming inertia and making change takes motivation.
Motivation comes from two sources: intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the person. When I was a child, I hated math. Left to my own motivation, very little math homework was completed. The extrinsic motivations were twofold: my parents and grades. Completing my math homework was less painful than facing the consequences set by my parents for not completing it and getting a bad grade. This is an important point. Extrinsic motivation is only as effective as the person’s desire to avoid punishment or obtain the reward. If it’s not important, if there’s no personal value, it won’t be as effective. Intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. There are personal values, interests, and reasons why the goal is set. When I run a marathon, the motivation to train comes from within myself. I enjoy the activity and meeting the challenge. I like the fitness I obtain through the training process. I like how my body looks and feels. I often experience a spiritual connection or resolve a problem while running. Running is relaxing. All these are motivators for me to run. Intrinsic motivation is your personal desire; your personal reasons.
Motivation is a verb and a noun. Motivation leads to action. Motivation is energy. Motivation is being.
Over time, the Soldier discovered what motivated him. He started working on his goals and started to see progress. And success became further motivation.
Motivation can be difficult to obtain. It waxes and wanes with life events. Frequently reflecting on goals and motivation can help keep you going.